SCC84: Selection and mating strategies to improve dairy cattle performance, efficiency, and longevity

(Multistate Research Coordinating Committee and Information Exchange Group)

Status: Active

SCC84: Selection and mating strategies to improve dairy cattle performance, efficiency, and longevity

Duration: 10/01/2018 to 09/30/2023

Administrative Advisor(s):

NIFA Reps:

Statement of Issues and Justification

As dairy and poultry science programs continue to become integrated into larger animal science departments at land-grant universities, focus on breed-specific research has shifted towards discipline; thereby, diluting research efforts to improve performance and production in specific breeds and species. Behind cattle and corn, the dairy industry represents the 3rd greatest commodity in the U.S. (USDA-ERS, 2017). Consumers have made it abundantly clear that dairy production is important and, therefore, research efforts must be concentrated to address key challenges in the dairy industry. Currently, the dairy industry struggles with genetic variation, dairy cow and calf health (e.g., mastitis, ketosis, scours, respiratory diseases, fertility), production efficiency and longevity. Additionally, as land, labor, and resources continue to shift towards human use, the dairy industry will be challenged to increase production with less assets available. To continue to meet protein demands both domestically and internationally, it is imperative that novel genetic and genomic breeding strategies be developed to improve dairy cattle performance, efficiency, and longevity. To do this, we must incorporate an interdisciplinary approach to address these complex problems AND continue to build a pipeline of students in the fields of quantitative and functional genetics.

Academia continues to fall behind in training students in quantitative genetics and computational biology; therefore, for the dairy industry to continue to make strides in genetic improvement, it is critical that we create intentional learning opportunities for students to be trained in quantitative and functional genetics and develop a pipeline of students to lead and manage these industries.

The primary stakeholders for this project are dairy producers, artificial insemination companies, and dairy breed association personnel. The success of this project will result in more efficient and sustainable production of dairy products to the benefit of dairy producers, consumers of dairy products, and the environment. The well-being of dairy cows will also be protected as we continue to select for enhanced efficiency promoting high producing healthy dairy cattle.

The southern coordinating committee is composed of land-grant, federal government (USDA - NAGP, and AGIL), and private sector (CDCB) quantitative geneticists and functional genomicists throughout the United States with expertise in genetic parameter analyses (e.g., heritability and genetic correlations), selection indices and breeding value development, heterosis and cross-breeding, modeling, genome-wide association studies, metabolomics, and transcriptomics for a variety of performance and health traits. Therefore, we are well-positioned to integrate –omics technologies with traditional genetic predictions to develop tools to make significant improvements in the dairy cattle industry.


  1. Recommend breeding strategies for optimal use of breed resources, maintenance and(or) exploitation of within-breed (additive and non-additive) genetic variation
  2. Capture phenotypic data for novel and economically important traits to elucidate their genetic regulation and potential for genomic selection
  3. Collaborate with the National Animal Germplasm Program (NAGP) Dairy Committee, Animal Genomics and Improvement Laboratory (AGIL), and the Council on Dairy Cattle Breeding (CDCB) to improve genetic variation of dairy and optimize economic merit indices
  4. Develop variant discovery strategies to incorporate functional –omics data into breeding schemes for economically important traits
  5. Carry out interdisciplinary collaborations to improve dairy cow and calf health through increased partnerships with researchers, industry and stakeholders
  6. Create a pipeline of diverse graduate students in the fields of quantitative and functional genetics and bioinformatics via outreach and educational opportunities

Procedures and Activities

a. An annual meeting will be held to exchange information on research at individual stations, to identify areas of collaboration among committee members, and to discuss the most pressing research and outreach needs. Researchers will discuss strategies to capture novel phenotypic data in order to facilitate genomic selection for economically important traits, strategies to improve non-additive genetic merit, coordinate the development of optimal mating strategies for commercial dairy producers, and develop strategies to incorporate alternative –omics data into current breeding schemes.
b. Committee members will advise CDCB on potential changes to national economic merit indices and strategize with AGIL to incorporate new economically relevant traits into current national selection indices.
c. Committee members will serve on the Dairy Species committee of the National Animal Germplasm Program Dairy Committee. Committee members will evaluate the status of the dairy collection and advise the National Animal Germplasm Program to optimize its dairy collection.
d. Committee members will work with other disciplines to develop and host a Discover Conference through the American Dairy Science Association (ADSA) focusing on precision agriculture.
e. Committee members will continue to recruit graduate students and build partnerships with underserved communities as defined by USDA (e.g., African, Hispanic, women, First-generation college students…).

Expected Outcomes and Impacts

  • The committee will work with AGIL at USDA to develop an updated Lifetime Net Merit formula and related genetic selection indexes
  • The committee will develop and recommend optimal mating strategies for commercial dairy producers that incorporate the use of crossbreeding and genomic evaluations for both bulls and cows
  • The committee will coordinate with the Dairy Committee of the National Animal Germplasm Program to optimize its dairy collection and monitor the genetic diversity represented in the repository
  • The committee will propose and potentially host a Discover Conference through ADSA to focus on “The cow of the future” that will reach academia, government, and the private sector of dairy science research.

Projected Participation

View Appendix E: Participation

Educational Plan

a. Committee members will disseminate research results through professional society meetings, multi-state research groups, peer reviewed publications, articles in popular press, social media (Twitter and Facebook), and workshops.
b. Committee members will coordinate efforts to improve access to dairy genetics/genomics curricula through participation in short courses and academies.
c. Representatives of related industry groups will be invited to attend and participate in annual committee meetings.
d. Committee members will serve as advisors to breed associations and related industry groups.


The recommended Standard Governance for multistate research activities include the election of a Chair, a Chair-elect, and a Secretary. All officers are to be elected for at least two-year terms to provide continuity. Administrative guidance will be provided by an assigned Administrative Advisor and a CSREES Representative

Literature Cited


Land Grant Participating States/Institutions


Non Land Grant Participating States/Institutions

Massey University - University of New Zealand
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